In Memoriam

Founding chair of U Biology, K. Gordon Lark:  1930-2020

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April 10, 2020 - It is with deep sorrow that I report that Gordon Lark passed away. Gordon was the force that built the Department of Biology, and he will be deeply missed by many.

Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Karl Gordon Lark was a renowned geneticist who worked in a variety of biological, systems notably soybeans and dogs.  One of his many distinctions was having more than 60 years of continuous funding from the NIH.

Gordon was recruited in 1970 to the University of Utah by Dr. Robert Vickery to serve as the inaugural chair of the Department of Biology.  His vision to establish a world class Biology department that included all biological disciplines from molecular biology to ecology was realized through his efforts as chair in hiring 17 new tenure line faculty in 6 years, and establishing a culture of scientific excellence and notable achievement that we hold dear to this day.

The tremendous impact of Gordon’s vision and leadership are felt in the School of Biological Sciences, across campus and throughout the state of Utah, particularly in the biotechnology sector.

Gordon will be dearly missed. Our deepest condolences go out to his wife Antje, his family and his dear friends.  

With a heavy heart and much gratitude for Gordon’s legacy,

Denise Dearing, Director | Distinguished Professor
School of Biological Sciences

In Dr. Lark’s obituary the family is suggesting that those who wish to make a donation, please consider the Huntsman Cancer Institute or the K. Gordon Lark Endowment Fund in the School of Biological Sciences.

Friends are welcome to share memories and photos with the family at

A life of Inquiry: K. Gordon Lark

Curiosity and coincidence guided Lark’s lifelong pursuit of discovery. He was born on Dec. 13, 1930, in West Lafayette, Indiana, into a household that valued intellect. His father was physics chair at Purdue University and his mother was an artist and psychiatrist. Lark was precocious in his academic pursuits and enrolled at the University of Chicago a year after World War II ended at the age of 15. There, he met Leo Szilard, regarded as the father of the Manhattan Project but who had turned his attention from nuclear reactions to the newly emerging field of the molecular basis of life. Szilard suggested that Lark spend the summer at Cold Spring Harbor, a famous laboratory that helped develop the field of molecular biology. There, Lark met Mark Adams, a scientist from New York University who would become Lark’s mentor.

Adams studied phages, which are viruses that invade bacterial cells and take over various host functions to propagate themselves. He not only inspired Lark’s love of research, but also taught him how to organize effective undergraduate science education. In the fall, Lark returned to Chicago to complete his degree and had his first eureka moment—he discovered reversible changes in the physical structure of phage proteins. It would be about four more years before the field generally accepted that molecules could change a protein’s shape.

“To this day, I think it’s one of the best pieces of science I’ve ever done,” Lark reflected in comments to the U’s American West Center. “It was the bringing together of physics and chemistry and biology into one moment. I didn’t think of it that way at the time, but from then on I was hooked!” (Portrait by Ben Okun)

Read More. . .

1956 photo of then 25-yr old Gordon Lark (second from right) during his postdoc days with Edward Kellenberger (far right) at the Division of Biophysics, Department of Physics, University of Geneva, Switzerland. Fifth from the right is graduate student Werner Arber who won the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery and elucidation of the mechanism of DNA restriction and modification in Escherichia coli. At that time, the laboratory of Professor Kellenberger was studying the intracellular development of bacteriophage T4 following its infection of its host, the bacterium Escherichia coli. To peer into the process, they were using the first Electron Microscope in Europe, manufactured for them by a Swiss firm in Zurich, just for their laboratory needs. Photo and commentary courtesy of Costa Georgopoulos.


K. Gordon Lark Endowment (SC25948-40165)
Dr. Gordon Lark established the Department in 1972. His endowment will fund undergraduate research, a visiting lectureship, and eventually a Presidential Endowed Chair for star faculty.


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